Yvette Scales recounts almost sixty years of personal experience with tropical storms and hurricanes while living in the Third Ward of Houston, TX. Scales touches on her memories with Hurricanes Carla, Alicia, Ike, Alison, and Harvey. In her interview, Scales reveals that although Hurricane Harvey brought her and her family less devastation than other hurricanes, Harvey became an opportunity for community growth.
Scales mentions community efforts to help one another in times of crisis. She also discusses how Texas Southern University offered help to those in need during Harvey by providing food, water, and other supplies.
Interviewee: Yvette Scales
Interview Date: October 4, 2019
Interview Location: WALIPP Senior Center
Interviewer: Tim Carlson
INTERVIEWER: My name is Tim Carlson. I’m with the University of Houston. We’re conducting an oral history harvest here at the WALIPP Center. I represent the Public History program. And we are doing the oral history project of Hurricane Harvey. Today is October 4, 2019. And I am here with Yvette Scales.
TC: Thank you for your time. If you would start out — if you wouldn’t mind telling me your name, a little about yourself, when and where you were born, and where you grew up.
YS: Well, my name is Yvette Scales. I was born in Gadsden, Alabama — raised in Birmingham — came here in 1960 to attend Texas Southern University. And from there — well, you know, I grew up in the [0:01:00] civil rights era. And coming here and being involved in all the things based on my degree, it just went from one thing to the other. I have a pharmacy degree. I worked in retail for about 12 years. I came back and did some academic advising for student athletes at TSU for about 19 years. And then I worked 10 years at Rice University in the financial aid office. So I’ve been around.
TC: So you’ve lived here since 1962?
YS: I came here in 1960.
TC: You’ve lived here since 1960?
TC: So you’ve had a lot of experiences with upper Texas Gulf storms and specifically Houston all the way back to [0:02:00] —
YS: Well, my first one was Carla.
YS: Uh-huh, that was quite an experience coming from Alabama, because at that time, we didn’t have major storms. I don’t even remember a tornado at that time. And when people talked about hurricanes, it was almost like Greek to me. And I — at this time, I was living in the dormitory. And the winds came — and the rain. And I believe we lost some lights at that time. The couple of cafeteria workers kind of got stuck on the campus, so we were able to have at least some hot food once a day. The winds were so high. Traveling from the dorm to the cafeteria, which was just right next door, I had to hold onto something. Because I was very, very thin at that time — just trying to keep from [0:03:00] being blown away. But the best part about it – if you could call it a best part – was learning and getting to know the majority of the girls in the dormitory where I lived. And we played card games to pass the time — learned how to play different card games to pass the time until things got better.
TC: So Carla was your first experience with a storm here?
YS: Carla was my first experience. And I thought —
TC: How did that affect you?
YS: Well, it was — well, because it was so many people around, it did not affect me as it has in later years. Even though I never had anything tragic to affect me directly, it’s the anxiety level that’s a little different. And we felt safe [0:04:00] inside of the building where we were. And we could kind of hold together. With so much going on inside, we didn’t think too much about on the outside. But getting older and the hurricanes seem to get worse, then I had more anxiety concerning it more than anything. So I really —
TC: So tell me — I’m sorry.
YS: Go ahead.
TC: Tell me some about some of the other storms. I mean, we’ll get to Harvey, but tell me about some of the other storms you remember. I’m assuming anxiety is something that is built up through the storms? And how has this affected it?
YS: I experienced Hurricane Alicia and, interestingly enough, my daughter’s name is Alicia. So we had joking terms with her in terms of that. It happened in the summer, and, of course, my school started. Some of the faculty members, when calling the roll, would say things like, “Are you the one that caused all that trouble [0:05:00]?” And students that didn’t live in Texas weren’t quite aware of what they were talking about and just wanted to know who was this person causing all this trouble.
But I went and stayed with a friend during that time, because I didn’t want to stay by myself. My children were older. And —
TC: This was which storm?
YS: Alicia. And they preferred to be with their friends. So being away from them, we lost communication. So I couldn’t find out if she was having anything like that. And it was just a lot of wind. I was concerned about the trees where I was — blowing and not being able to get water. And it was like two days of intense not being able to contact family, but nothing tragically happened in the area [0:06:00] that I was. Once we got radio and TV communication, we found out other things that was happening in different parts of the city. And then that’s when I kind of began to panic, because I need to get back home to see if anything happened to my home. And luckily, nothing had happened. And the kids were fine where they were.
TC: Where were you during Alicia?
YS: I was here in Houston. I was — I went on the north side, because I figured I was further out and nothing was going to happen. But at that time, I lived in this area. In fact, I was staying on the street right behind this building. And no water at all — the bayou didn’t even overflow, so I was in good shape.
TC: What was your experience during Hurricane Harvey?
YS: I was in here trying to remember Hurricane Harvey.
TC: Where did you live at the time [0:07:00]?
YS: I —
TC: August of 2017?
YS: I was on Blodgett Street. And I was — I was really concerned about the bayou overflowing, because it overflowed during Ike. And I thought I could just see the water coming down the street. I didn’t lose any electricity or anything. So aside from just some heavy winds, I didn’t even get a lot of tree limbs down or anything like that. The most devastating one wasn’t Harvey for me. It was Ike, because I stayed up most of the night because of the winds. And when I finally went to sleep about 3 o’clock in the morning, I woke up about 6:00, 7 o’clock. I went outside, and the whole neighborhood looked [0:08:00] like it had been a war zone. My yard was full of trees and branches. And I walked out into the street, and there were these huge pine trees laying across the street. No cars could come down that way, and even for me, I either had to go around the tree or just kind of hop over the portion where the trunk was small. And I lost electricity for a week.
TC: So where were you during Ike?
YS: About a mile from here on Blodgett Street — just back — the grad apartments on University of Houston’s campus.
TC: What was that week like without electricity during Ike?
YS: Dark. It was — it wasn’t too bad for me, because I had [0:09:00] gas. So I could cook. I went over to TSU and managed to get some water and ice. I didn’t take the food, because I had access to it. And someone else could use it, so I didn’t get the food. I just got water and ice. My next door neighbor had a generator. So if I didn’t want to sit in the dark, I could come over to her house. But I had a very small portable TV that took double-A batteries, which I stocked up on. And I could watch TV at night and keep up with what was going on. About the middle of the week, my daughter came and picked me up and took me over on the southwest side of town where she was staying. And I was able to take a shower and just feel [0:10:00] better — get some rest. And then I said, “I got to go back home.” She said, “Why? You stay here.” I said, “I got to make sure everything’s going to be okay.” And about midweek, the lights came on in the apartments next door to me, which were the grad students at U of H. And I said, “Oh, I’ve got lights.” And she said, “What do you mean you have lights?” I said, “Well, their lights shine into my bedroom, so I’ll be able to see as I walk through the house at night.” But it might have been three days later before we had lights to come back on. So other than — just cleaning up my yard, meeting the rest of my neighbors, and walking down other streets and seeing that we were better off than some others, because trees feel on folks’ houses. And it had to be devastating for them.
TC: Each storm affects different parts of Houston differently.
TC: You said during Harvey you lived [0:11:00] —
YS: On Blodgett Street.
TC: Oh, you were on Blodgett. I’m sorry. And you didn’t have too much damage?
YS: No, no damage to the property.
TC: You had power and everything?
TC: The neighborhood was —
YS: The neighborhood — my street was good shape except for trees falling. A tree fell on a car, but none of the houses were really affected except for wires falling on the power boxes. Some of them needed to be replaced.
TC: Transformers, yeah.
YS: Other than that, it was good.
TC: Do you have family here in town?
YS: Yep, my children and my grandchildren were here. And where they lived —
TC: How many children and grandchildren do you have in Houston?
YS: I have two kids. Well, they’re grown, a daughter and a son. And I have four — I have five [0:12:00] granddaughters and one great-grandson.
TC: And they all — during Harvey —
YS: During Harvey, they did fine. Now, it was Allison that my daughter lost her car. And her father had to be evacuated from his house. Now, at that time, I was staying over in — over by Hobby Airport in the apartments over there. I can’t think of their name. And my daughter was visiting her dad, who stayed off of Sims Bayou off of Airport Boulevard. And she — the street would flood, but it had never flooded like it did at this time. But she eventually lost — I think water was up past the windows on her car [0:13:00]. And she and her brother walked from Airport to the apartments, because it was about almost two feet of water in the house at that time. Their dad stayed. Eventually, he had to be evacuated to Madison High School. Now, that part was devastating for them, but you know, I watched everything from my bed. Because there was no water on that side of town at the time, so I’ve been fortunate during the years that I’ve been here.
TC: But you’ve experienced almost 60 years living in Houston and tropical storms and hurricanes that we have here. How does it affect you a few weeks ago when we had Irma [sic, 0:13:51] and you hear about a storm coming? How does that affect you?
YS: Well, that was — that was interesting, because I was focused on Beaumont at the time [0:14:00] — watching the television. And they had announced that they were staying on to help bring information to the people in Beaumont. And then it seems like it was 30 minutes later somebody did an oops. Irma’s [sic, 0:14:17] coming in through the back door. And I really got worried, because this area has been blessed so to speak. And you know, you just think it’s about time for something to happen here in Third Ward, especially being this close to the bayou. I was living here at the time, so I just watched and listened. I did go down to the bayou about 4 o’clock — probably the last day of the intense storm, and I saw the water at the very top. Had it continued to rain, it would have overflowed [0:15:00], but I was happy that it didn’t. But I really worried about that one, because I thought, “It’s our time.”
From this point on, it seems like the — you know, the hurricanes get worse. But so far, we’re okay over here. But I just find it very, very interesting about where the water is up in the north area with Kingwood. You know, like that is just confusing that they’re further away from what you would consider water overflow than we are right by it. And we just get blessed.
TC: Well, are there any other things you would like to share with us about [0:16:00] your many years of experiences with tropical storms or with Harvey? How did you interact with other people? How did neighborhoods interact?
YS: No, for me, it was an opportunity to meet people, because we have a tendency to huddle together. And people that you don’t know a lot about or have never met, it’s an opportunity to kind of get together. Everyone has the same concern, and when we’re together, we don’t think about what the devastation is. And whatever else might happen will happen to a group. But sister lives in Alabama, and she was — I was telling her that I wasn’t going to go and visit her during tornado season. And she said, “Well, you all have hurricanes.” I said, “Yes, but we have a week or two to get ready, not 15 minutes.” So that’s a little different. I think I could deal [0:17:00] with a hurricane than I could a tornado, even though we have them. I think I’m a little bit better off than where they have them all the time. I watch TV closely and see how it’s going to flow and make decisions as to what I need to do — and pray.
TC: You alluded to — and hopefully, I’m not putting words into your mouth. But it seems that these storms form community during the storms and how people act toward each other and help. Could you talk a little more about that?
YS: Well, I lived on the street — when I lived on the Blodgett Street, the majority of the people there were elderly people. So they didn’t come out. And [0:18:00] since my retirement, I’m busy all the time. So sometimes I would leave in the mornings and wouldn’t get back until late night, so I didn’t have a chance to bond with people at the end of — the opposite end of the street. Mostly it was the next door neighbor — next two doors. Plus, only one family at that time had children. And usually when you have small children, you know who the parents of the other children are. But so since I didn’t have that avenue, there were some people that I did not get to know.
But during Harvey — I mean, during Ike, it was an opportunity to get out. You knew someone in the house wasn’t able to come out and clear their yards, we all kind of got together and do those kinds of things. And it was opportunity for disaster [0:19:00] entities from other cities that would come out and help the elderly people. So I had to remember that I was an elderly person and help them clear their yard. And while I’m trying to direct them to the elderly, someone said, “Well, aren’t you elderly?” I said, “Oh, yeah, alright.” But by then, I had cleared up most of my debris. And we went over — when we went over to TSU to get the extra water and things, we would bring over — try to bring over enough for people who didn’t have transportation to go.
During Harvey, this last storm, we kind of came downstairs in here and watched out the window and watched what was going on the TV to see what was going on. And someone said that the bayou was heavy. And I said, “I’m going to go see [0:20:00],” so I went. I took pictures and came back and showed them where the bayou was. I said, “Now, y’all pray that it stops raining or the bayou’s going to overflow unless it continues to rain north and it fills up again.” But you know, that didn’t happen. But some people came down, I guess, because they were concerned. And we had an opportunity to meet other people in this building that sometimes we just don’t interact with for varying reasons.
And it was good to get to know who they were. But building community is always good. It’s always good to know who your neighbors are. And as you get older, their conditions, so you know where you may go into action at another time as to what they may need — get a ride to the store, make sure they have what they need.
TC: One last question for you.
TC: You’ve lived in this area for, sounds like, the entire time you’ve lived in Houston?
YS: Almost [0:21:00].
TC: Pretty much.
YS: Yeah, when I first came here, I lived in Sunnyside. And then I stayed on the campus. And I got married and stayed here. Then I moved back out in the South Park area. And after that, I moved back over here. And then I moved back over by Hobby Airport. And then I moved back over here. Third Ward is centrally located, and it’s close to everything that I was involved in. So I think I’m here for good.
TC: Have you noticed a difference over the course of 60 years of how people respond to each other during storms? Or have they always acted —
YS: I’ve — I think they do the same. It’s been the same for me — an opportunity [0:22:00] to meet more people in your neighborhood, because you’re stationary. You can’t go anywhere or do anything else, so you bond with the people who are closest around you. That’s the way it was for me. I know my daughter was living out in southwest Houston, and she wanted me to come and stay with her during Ike. And I said, “No, I need to stay at my house.” And she said, “What you going to do if a tree falls?” I said, “I’ll just cut up some stuff and just sit and wait.” And you know, I would just — I’m always concerned about other people. So I just kind of like to stay close to people that I know.
TC: So even when we have disasters and bad things happening, you see it as an opportunity for community to grow?
YS: Well, yeah, but you know, you [0:23:00] —
TC: That’s the good side, yeah.
YS: Yeah, that’s the upside, but you respond according to how it affects you directly. If you’re okay, then it’s okay. But if you’re not okay, you’re on your way someplace else for safety. And I guess wherever you go you want to connect with somebody so that you don’t — that the other person won’t feel so alone or whatever. But it is a great opportunity to build a community. And when you see on the news how people are helping people, some people don’t want to leave the area. And they’re looking after their homes. They’re looking at their neighbor’s home, because the neighbor evacuated. So it’s kind of like that across the board. Nobody becomes an island at that time. They may be an island before, but when disaster strikes, we have a tendency to come in and get down in the trenches and help people [0:24:00].
TC: I want to thank you. But I’ll give you an opportunity. Is there anything we didn’t cover about Harvey or any other storms that you experienced that you’d like to touch on?
YS: I don’t know. When I sat down, I was trying to think of what was I doing during Harvey. And you know, just never know unless someone asks a question, and you go, “Oh, yeah.” But I guess because I felt safe and secure, I can’t think of anything I was doing at that time or watching the news and being devastated about what was happening other places.
TC: Well, that’s good. We’re glad you fared well.
YS: Thank you.
TC: Thank you for your time. And we appreciate you helping us with our oral history project.
YS: Thank you. You’re welcome.
TC: And sharing your life experiences with us.
YS: History is great. And people need to know.
TC: Thank you very much.
YS: Uh-huh, thank you.
TC: Take care. [0:25:00] [0:25:02]